By Greg Godels

May 9, 2024

 

With an important US presidential election — we are told — only months away, but one posing two repugnant, disheartening choices, it may be a good time to explore where we are and how we got here.

What we can agree is that most of us, when asked, believe that things are going badly: an October, 2023 AP-NORC poll finds that 78% of those polled responded that “the country is going in the wrong direction;” a January Morning Consult poll concludes that less than a third of those responding “say the country is headed in the right direction; a recent Harvard Kennedy School poll says that less than 10 % of youth 18 to 29 believe that the US is “generally headed in the right direction” and so on with NBCABCPew, etc. polls. We could quarrel over the exact numbers expressing dissatisfaction, but all polls point to a nation decidedly unhappy with our direction.

Of course, there is room to debate exactly what people mean by the “wrong direction.” They may mean in regard to their own current situation or that of their family or friends; they may mean their sense of security; they may mean their own or others’ prospects. Or they may mean that “society” is heading the wrong way culturally, politically, or economically. No doubt respondents to the various polls have complex, even contradictory reasons for losing confidence in the US trajectory. Moreover, one cannot discount the influence of monopoly media reportage and commentary in constructing the sense of dissatisfaction.

It is fair to say, however, that most people believe that our future will be determined by political outcomes. Whether or not they have confidence in the political system — polls say they don’t — they do, in fact, rely on campaigning and elections to determine the future course of the country. Most US citizens have not yet chosen or do not know of other political courses of action beyond voting or indifference.

A fixture of our political system is the two-party monopoly. While it is not unlawful or completely uncommon that there be other parties, tradition, entry-demands, financing, chicanery, and even violence have worked to deny third-party movements access or ensure their lack of success. Popular sentiment is denied by Republican and Democratic leaders and functionaries and those others invested in the two-party system who control the rules of the game. A fall, 2023 Gallup poll finds that “Sixty-three percent of U.S. adults currently agree with the statement that the Republican and Democratic parties do ‘such a poor job’ of representing the American people that ‘a third major party is needed.’” For a poll-based summary of US voters’ overall negativity, see this Pew article.

So ahead of a November election, we face two poles: one represented by a self-styled nationalist-populist promising to “Make America Great Again,” while weighted down with a sordid, vulgar, and elitist history; and the other represented by a corporate Democrat once known as the “senator from MBNA” (the infamous credit card company) for his cozy relationship with the credit card industry, a reliable friend of wealth and power, and a history of supporting legislation hostile to the interests of Black people.

This is where we have arrived.

Do the two-parties offer answers to the negativism expressed in polls?

I don’t see it.

The Republican Party remains a corporate party wedded first and foremost to the interests of capital. It has a relatively independent wing that is able and willing to force its own cultural and social agenda on the entire party. Parts of that wing recognize that the self-proclaimed “party of labor” — the Democratic Party– has long failed to deliver anything of deep or lasting value to working people. Elements of this wing have– in the twenty-first century– constructed a faux-populist image to attract working people, with some success. Variations of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” had been used earlier by Reagan and the Clintons to entice workers’ votes.

Trump and others have attracted angry voters with their vocal disdain for the “establishment,” elite arrogance, East Coast condescension, and US leaders’ general superciliousness. While “draining the swamp” is a worthy goal, four years of the Trump administration provided no relief from elitism.

The Republicans historically vacillate between isolationism and belligerence. But at least they vacillate.

While the Republicans do not want to identify with racism, misogyny and the many other know-nothing-isms, they are not above courting the scum that do.

The Democratic Party– the other option that we are allowed by our ruling class– wears the mythical mantle of “the party of the people.” The sole basis for this claim is dim recollections of the New Deal, a little understood period of US history that brought some benefits to working people as a result of a desperate attempt to save capitalism from itself.

With capitalism on a firmer footing after World War II, US rulers, with the full cooperation of Democratic Party Cold Warriors, dealt a fatal blow to the so-called Popular Front, purging left-wing militancy from unions, universities, schools, media, and any other area of influence.

The coup de grâce to New Deal thinking came after the collapse of the Keynesian paradigm/New Deal political coalition in the 1970s. When Reagan ushered in market fundamentalism and ushered out government intervention, the Democrats were not long in jumping on board. Soon, every Democrat saw the wisdom of efficiency, balanced budgets, private initiatives, and entrepreneurial sovereignty. As the Republican Party embraced religious zealotry and medieval justice, many saw the Democrats as the new Republicans, with their stealth attacks on welfare, Social Security, and Medicare.

Today’s Democratic Party is neither democratic nor a party, but a brand. It lives and breathes on money from corporate sponsors. Its contact with its supporters is through advertising, television talking heads, the punditry, and indirectly through various media; the idea of human contact with potential voters is only useful if it can be filmed and included in a television commercial.

Like the Republicans, the Democrats have an activist wing that provides a social democratic veneer to the party’s image. Unlike the Republican counterpart wing, the “progressive” Democratic wing never dares to attempt to impose its views on the party. Without exercising “leverage,” the Democratic Party left wing simply serves as a cover, a safe space for “progressives” to welcome other progressives into the party’s arms.

The truth is the Democratic Party is a corporate party, but a party that has occasionally been forced by social pressure, circumstances, or crises to play a people-friendly role. The pressure is not there now.

Moreover, the Democratic leadership has nothing to offer working people. The class base of the party has shifted. With the loss of the South to the Republicans and the ugly Nixon fiasco in the 1970s, the Democrats captured the suburban petty-bourgeoisie and its aspirants who were comfortable with the shrinkage of the welfare state, lower taxes, and deregulation, yet socially liberal on personal questions. Stable super-voters, active in social movements, and financially generous to the Democrats, they (and their contemporary urban gentry counterparts who share a similar profile) are the new keystone of the Democratic Party. The traditional backbone of the Democratic Party — minorities, unions, youth, the poor — are taken for granted. After all, according to the reasoning of Democratic leaders, those groups have nowhere else to go.

This realignment has refashioned its core issues around lifestyle, personal rights, and a hyper-regard for the diversity of individual values. The traditional left’s concerns for common social values of equality, community, and material security have been forced into the background. Good jobs, health care, education, and secure retirement are not there for all to have, but for those who earn them.

Democratic leaders celebrate achievers — those who have broken through glass ceilings — but have contempt for those fallen or stuck in the basement. Both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have arrogantly, and with little forethought for appearances, relegated the heartland of the US to a land of gun-loving, Bible-thumpers — in Clinton’s unforgettable words, “the deplorables.” Never mind that the Midwest has been ravaged by corporate deindustrialization, leaving cities and small towns depopulated, poor, with shrinking social services, and marginal employment. The “deplorables” have failed to push on, get a late-life STEM education, and rise by their own bootstraps. In the meantime, let’s extend a welcoming, helping hand to those few who merit admission to the highest rungs of elite society.

This contempt for the non-coastal residents came forth most recently in a New York Times bestseller, White Rural Rage, by Schaller and Waldman, who depict small town USA as backward and infected with racism. Like so many in the Democratic Party intelligentsia, they see this as a threat to “our” democracy. That is to say, the authors worry about contempt for the democracy of the “successful,” but care little for the democracy of the “losers.” For a tightly argued, thoughtful rejoinder to this dose of elitism, read Les Leopold’s Wall Street War on Workers, though I wish Leopold would have as a sub-title “and the Two Parties’ War on Workers.”

For the forthcoming election, the Democrats will once again hope to corral those left-of-center with Trump’s alleged threat to “our” democracy. They will go so far as to raise the specter of fascism. Ironically, the closest move against democracy that resembles the realities of life under fascism is the recent bipartisan passage of an expanded section 702 of the infamous FISA, an act that permits warrantless spying on US citizens. The ACLU comments that it is a “bill that gives the government more ways to secretly surveil us.” Even more ironically, Trump — the alleged enemy of democracy– denounced the entire FISA act.

Leftish Democrats will again raise the old canard about divisions on the left in Germany opening the door to fascism in the 1930s. According to this historical reconstruction, the failure of the Communists and Social Democrats to unite against Hitler allowed him to take power. It is an ill-informed, simplistic take on a complex situation. But suffice it to say, it excuses the real causes of Hitler’s rise: the draconian Treaty of Versailles, discredited centrist politics, compromised industrialists and business people, a profound economic crisis, displaced workers whose voices were not heard, their desperation, and — yes — a rotten, broken capitalist system.

The Democrats face an enormous problem with poor management of the economy and support for unpopular wars. Some say the Democrats are the war party. But that is not fair. Both parties are war parties, each with its own badges of shame.

But Biden and the Democrats will pay a price for enabling the bloodletting in Ukraine and, especially, for complicity in the massacres in Gaza. The intensity of the outrage against the genocidal slaughter in Gaza will only increase.

Regardless of which of the two parties wins in November, we are in for a rough patch. While the candidates are different, they are different in equally despicable ways.

I will follow the wise counsel of most of my fellow citizens who say that “a third major party is needed” and cast my one vote towards that goal.